Among the Orthodox Church's feasts, there are three in honor of God's saints that stand out from others devoted to the saints. These are among the great feasts of the Church of Christ that glorify the coming of God for our salvation.
These three feasts are the Nativity of St. John the Forerunner, on Sunday, his beheading, on Aug. 29, and the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, on Friday.
The apparition of Archangel Gabriel to the priest Zacharias in the Jerusalem temple with the announcement of the birth to him and Elizabeth of a son who would prepare the way of the Lord, are the first events related by the evangelists.
The announcement of Archangel Gabriel to Zacharias in the Jerusalem temple begins the New Testament Gospel.
The announcement by the same Archangel Gabriel six months later in Nazareth to the Virgin Mary concerning her birth of the Son of God who was to become flesh, is a continuation of the biblical revelation concerning the salvation of the human race.
Three months after the Annunciation, or March 25, St. John the Baptist was born "in the city of Judah," and six months later, Christ was born in Bethlehem.
These events are closely bound together.
"The glorious conception of the Forerunner proclaims beforehand the King Who is to be born of Virgin" (Orthodox Hymn, Sept. 23, Feast of the Conception of John the Baptist).
Zacharias' hymn: The announcement of the Archangel Gabriel in the Temple, announced later to all living nearby by Zacharias in the magnificent hymn which he sang after the birth of John and the restoration to him of the gift of speech (Luke 1:67-79), is the forerunner's angelic hymn: "Glory to God in the highest," which was sung in Bethlehem by the angels when they announced to the shepherds the Nativity of Christ.
The nativity of John the Baptist is the first joy sent down by God to the human race, the beginning of its deliverance from the power of the devil, sin and eternal death.
It is true that even before the Forerunner, the Virgin Mary was born, and her birth was also announced by angels to Her parents, Joachim and Anna.
But at that time only her parents knew of the exaltation which was prepared for the Virgin Mary who was born, and they themselves were not fully aware of what had been announced to them beforehand. Therefore, only they celebrated at the birth of their daughter. The rest of the world only later understood the joy which had been announced by his birth.
Virgin Mary's feasts: For this reason the feasts of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, on Sept. 8, and her entrance into the Temple, on Nov. 21, were established in the Orthodox Church. This began to be solemnly celebrated later than the other great feasts, whereas the Nativity of the John the Forerunner is one of the most ancient and most venerated of Christian feasts. Sermons on this feast have been preserved from the first centuries.
In honor of the Nativity of John the Baptist, the following hymn is sung during the Divine Liturgy:
"O Prophet and Forerunner of the coming of Christ, we who venerate you with love are in perplexity how worthily to praise you; for the barrenness of her who bore you and the dumbness of your father are loosed by your glorious and precious nativity and the incarnation of the Son of God is preached to the world."
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.